Listen to people and the media talk about today's teenagers and sooner or later the subject of teen apathy will arise. Young people aren't involved in their communities, they aren't interested in civic affairs, and they have little knowledge of the world at large.
Don't tell Elizabeth Edwards any of this, however.
"I am trying to do a lot to combat the bad rap high school students get these days," says Edwards, a 17-year old senior at Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon. "More and more of us are volunteering. A lot of teens are getting involved in causes they really care about."
Edwards knows a thing or two about volunteer service. She was part of a group of eight youth volunteers from the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland who recently returned from a 10-day trip to Honduras where they worked with Mercy Corps partner, Proyecto Aldea Global (PAG), to help a family of four in Flor del Campo enlarge and improve its house.
The family, a mother and her three children, had been living in a cramped shelter.
"We worked hard to extend the foundation of the house and to start building the walls," says Edwards. "The family was really excited. The kids and their mom helped us to move things around and were very involved in the process."
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral first began work in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998. This is the second year that the church has sent a youth group to Flor del Campo, a slum outside of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. Edwards was a member of last year's group that worked with PAG to construct two new houses in the slum. Proficient in Spanish, Edwards was chosen to be one of two leaders for this year's trip.
The volunteer trip was coordinated in conjunction with Mercy Corps/PAG, which has been active in Honduras for 15 years and has extensive projects in Flor del Campo. The trip was funded through private money, as well as funds raised by the youth group. Edwards says the group organized a theater performance and a buy-a-brick fundraiser.
In addition to its construction project, the youth group spent a few days in the PANACAM National Park planting 325 pine trees and performing trail maintenance
What does Edwards think was the biggest impact the group made during the trip?
"It is not so much that we went there and built something or planted trees," says Edwards who plans to major in Spanish and Pre-Med in college. "It is more that we have taken time to get to know people and to show that we care. It is a very personal experience and it lets the people know that we aren't just sitting at home in 'El Norte' and that we care about them."
Edwards says that despite difficulties such as the recent Honduran postal strike she has been able to keep in touch with her host family and she hopes to someday return again to Honduras.
As for advice she would give to other young people:
"Just find something that interests you. There is something out there for everyone," she says.